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APRIL FOOLS: Natural notes: Orchestra plan melds park with venue

APRIL FOOLS: Responding to resident concerns, the Sarasota Orchestra wants to incorporate major elements of Payne Park into its new concert hall.

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  • | 6:00 a.m. April 1, 2019
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APRIL FOOLS — Performances in the park. Strings and swings. Telemann and tennis. The Swan Lake suite, coexisting with actual swans.

That’s the vision behind the Sarasota Orchestra’s revised plans for a new venue, crafted in response to initial criticism of a proposal to build a concert hall on a portion of Payne Park.

Opponents of the plans objected to the idea of trading parkland for a new building. In a presentation outlining the latest concept for the concert hall, the orchestra is asking: Why don’t we have both?

The new plans attempt blur the lines between the natural and built environment, incorporating elements more traditionally associated with parks into the venue design. According to a document prepared in advance of an April 1 community workshop, the organization made the changes in hopes of instilling a greater sense of comfort that the building can complement — and even enhance — Payne Park.

The new plans, crafted by design consultant GreenBoys, are a striking departure from the original proposal. Moss lines the exterior of the structure, leading up to a lush, landscaped rooftop designed to replicate the green space currently in place at the park. The easternmost wall is eliminated altogether, transitioning gradually from the marbled symphony lobby to an orchard of oak trees.

“Arts and nature are two of the defining elements of Sarasota,” said Benson Winifred, president and CEO of GreenBoys. “We realized we were going about things the wrong way by trying to build a barrier between the two. By creating a space where they can coexist, we can elevate both mediums for an unprecedented breathtaking experience.”

The revised vision makes a concession to those who questioned whether a performing arts building would qualify as a “kindred use” with the park, as stipulated in the deed for the underlying land. The proposal for the property has added several public amenities, including a yoga studio inside the venue and a climbing wall and elevated hiking trail on the outside.

The trail leads up to the redesigned roof, now a public space and a central element of the plans. A large pond sits in the center of the rooftop landscaping, designed as a refuge for birds whose habitat would be disturbed by the construction of the venue.

“We figured, when you get down to it, a surface is a surface,” Winifred said. “Ducks don’t care if their pond is on the ground or on the roof of a state-of-the-art building with impeccable internal acoustics. They’re just looking for water.”

A lone tennis court is slated for the highest flat segment of the roof, a nod to the proposed relocation of the Payne Park Tennis Center. The presentation describes it as “the most breathtaking view of any athletic complex in Sarasota, well worth the trek to the summit.”

Although the new proposal is designed to assuage external concerns, it’s raised the ire of some orchestra patrons. Already, Winifred tried to downplay fears the changes would negatively affect the suitability of the venue as a performance space — ostensibly, its primary purpose.

“We have to be open to some give and take,” Winifred said. “Obviously, most musicians would rather worry about getting whacked by a stray tennis ball while walking into your rehearsal hall. But, in the end, that seems a small price to pay for the privilege of performing in such an innovative space.”

Some orchestra stakeholders have embraced the proposal. Already, a group of youth musicians have pitched “Haydn is a Halfpipe,” a collaborative on-stage performance with skaters from the nearby Payne Skate Park. Winifred said he was excited about the enthusiasm, though he described the plan as “perhaps better in concept than in execution.”

“Obviously, we’re only entertaining reasonable proposals at this point,” Winifred said.


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